By Chippenham GP Dr Nick Brown

I THINK that most people have forgotten that the drastic measures which started two months ago were implemented to control the spread of Coronavirus to a level that the NHS could cope with.

Covid-19 is a highly infectious viral illness for which we have currently no specific treatment or proven vaccine and the only option to reduce spread was to enforce social isolation and distancing. Testing was, and still is, unreliable and in short supply. There were also concerns about the availability of PPE. This strategy has worked and the NHS has not been swamped, but at enormous financial, social and possibly ‘non-covid’ health cost. This cost is unsustainable and yet many lives have been sadly already lost.

In these two months the NHS has coped, albeit in difficult circumstances. The intensive care capacity of the NHS has been dramatically increased and so far the capacity of the seven Nightingale Hospitals, eg 4,000 in the ExCel centre and 300 in Bristol, have not been needed.

Hospitals have suspended routine services to cater for a surge in urgent Covid admissions and GPs and primary care services have dramatically changed their systems to reduce infection risk and increase emergency access.

The less well-resourced social care system has also in most cases coped, although there is increasing concern about the inevitable consequences of this infectious virus on the frail and elderly. Locality support in villages has increased to a level not seen for decades.

The mortality curve, however you measure it, has flattened and is now falling. The reinfection ratio is below 1 and the epidemic has been brought under temporary control.

So at this stage, the Government has had a difficult choice:

1 to continue the restriction and its continuing costs in an attempt to ‘bunker down’ until either the virus peters out or an effective vaccine is produced, and there is no guarantee that either of these will happen in the near future.

2 to release the lockdown, see an inevitable rise in infection rates but a return to some degree of commercial and social normality and attempt to keep rates below an acceptable level where health services can cope - and this might be at a significantly higher level than the peak already seen in wave one.

There was really only one pragmatic option. Since then many individuals have taken matters into their own hands, have abandoned self-isolation and consciously or unconsciously accepted that risk. Unfortunately those who are unable to accept this risk, for whatever reason, will need to maintain isolation. Most will tread a careful path between these extremes. The next four weeks will be crucial.

So, until the virus peters out, or an effective vaccine is developed, this is the choice that we all personally face and we shouldn’t blame it all on the government.